New image: Overlook doctor is delighted to utilize fluorescent imaging tech to fight lung cancer

First and foremost, Dr. Federico Steiner is a thoracic surgeon who wants to have the best tools he can when treating patients with malignant diseases of the chest.

Secondarily, he confesses to just being something of a “tech lover.”

“Every time something new comes out that applies to what I do, and it makes sense for our patients, I’m all for it,” he said.

Dr. Federico Steiner. (Atlantic Health System)

The latest innovation he’s thrilled about is one his team has started utilizing at Atlantic Health System‘s Overlook Medical Center in Summit. It’s only the third location in the world to make clinical use of the FDA-approved technology, which was launched in September.

It’s a fluorescent imaging technology called Cytalux … and its massive potential is just now being illuminated.

“The whole premise is to be able to detect the smallest lung cancers before they become invasive and before they start to spread,” he said. “It’s all an extension of what we’re doing, which is early detection of lung cancer through screenings (and other tests).”

In essence, Cytalux lights up lung cancer. It’s a medication based on folic acid, or vitamin B9, that’s given to patients two hours before surgery. Then, the compound and a specialized scope can help surgeons find cancer in lung tissue during operations by making those cells glow.

“Although folic acid is taken up by all cells, normal cells tend to wash it out much quicker than cancer cells, which are rapidly dividing and retaining that folic acid for longer,” Steiner said. “So, that leaves a very bright signal using a scope that’s transmitted to a screen at the time of a surgery.”

That highlighting of cancer cells gives surgeons more confidence in removing cancerous tissue from surrounding lung tissue. Steiner said it’s also giving surgeons the potential to find lesions small enough to go undetected otherwise — only to manifest later, once the cancer has grown. Upward of 19% of patients had lesions that could only be detected with the use of Cytalux, according to On Target Laboratories, the company behind the innovation.

Steiner said that, across the first five use cases at Overlook, the technology was able to detect cancerous tissue as small as 7 millimeters. That allowed doctors to treat the earliest possible form of cancer before it was able to invade surrounding tissues or spread to the lymphatic system.

Indiana-based On Target Laboratories just raised $30 million to commercialize Cytalux, which Steiner said potentially “portends a good future” for the biotech firm’s product.

“I would imagine this starts to take off,” he added. “I do think it will become a lot more widespread. We’re still just at the cusp of this becoming available.”

Made in Jersey

Part of the fluorescent imaging technology Atlantic Health System is utilizing relies on a surgical camera technology made by Stryker, one of many “medtech” corporations with a manufacturing and supply chain footprint in New Jersey.

Dean J. Paranicas. (File photo)

Dean J. Paranicas, CEO of the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, the state’s medtech and biopharma trade association, said there’s no shortage of exciting developments that have come out of the state’s med tech sphere.

“Especially with an aging population, there’s a lot of demand for what local medtech companies can provide today,” he said. “There’s also an impact for the (economics of health care organizations), which are always managing their operations to make themselves more efficient and cost effective.”

Paranicas said the Garden State is fortunate to have a strong cohort of the industry as local residents, with 12 of the world’s 20 largest medtech companies having a base or significant presence here. Each has its own areas of strategic focus, he added, with players in wound care, robotics and drug delivery devices — to name a few.

In his view, there’s a trifecta of trends driving innovation today …

  • Biometric devices: The simplest and most well-known forms are wearable fitness trackers, such as the Apple Watch, that can monitor heart rates and other health metrics. But, companies such as Stryker, Johnson & Johnson and Zimmer Biomet are coming up with devices that are meant to be implanted to keep track of patients’ health on a deeper level, Paranicas said.
  • Precision medicine: A still-evolving area is the use of tools and tests that determine how DNA might be affecting one patient’s experience with a health condition, such as diabetes, in a way that differs from others. Companies are also tuning up testing devices to be more sensitive based on the latest diagnostics research.
  • Artificial intelligence and virtual reality: As these emerging technologies continue to grow in so many other areas, Paranicas said medtech companies are focusing research & development on how both AI and virtual reality can be implemented into robotic surgery scenarios, the exchange of health care data and analyzing patient outcomes.